As has been made abundantly clear by his incessant mewling and pathetically thin skin, Donald J. Trump is not in fact an unwaveringly resolute tough guy of the type you would hope to find standing next to you in the trenches, but an insecure attention seeker who cannot help but pander to his audiences’ prejudices. In the past few days, Trump has been asked variously whether, if elected, he would use his power to close mosques; whether he believes that Muslims should be registered in a special government database; and whether or not it would be a good idea to suspend the Fourth Amendment for anybody who prays to Allah. In all cases he has either demurred completely or eschewed the more traditional “yes” and “no” categories in favor of some choice hedging. “That may have to be done,” Trump says. “There’s no doubt.” “We’ll look at that.” “We’ll consider all the options.” “We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely.”
So painful has this tendency become that I have begun to hope his interviewers will get a little surreal, just to see what he says:
“Sure. We’re going to look at everything.”
“As president would you consider taking suspected burglars and parachuting them naked into lava?”
“Do you think it’s fair to say that you are the egg man, that you are the egg man, that you are the Walrus?”
“We’re going to examine a range of possibilities.”
“I’ll be looking into that.”
Perhaps the only thing that is worse than Trump’s silence is what he does say.
The most common defense of Trump’s perpetual acquiescence has been that he did not explicitly say “yes” to the more controversial among the questions, and that he cannot therefore be accused of endorsement. In truth, this isn’t quite right; speaking to NBC last night, he did seem to suggest affirmatively that Muslims would be required to sign into his hypothetical database or face consequences. Either way, I’m struggling to see how this defense can be acceptable to his admirers. Trump, recall, is supposed to be courageous. He’s supposed to be steadfast. He’s supposed to be a no-holds-barred badass who will make great deals and stare down enemies and Make America Great Again. How, one wonders, does a chronic inability to say “no” fit into that mien?
Calvin Coolidge said “no” over and over and over again because he understood that the federal government existed for a handful of specific reasons, and that any action it took outside of its carefully delineated tramlines was inherently suspect. Donald Trump’s only visible constitutional opinion is that someone strong ought to make sure the trams run on time. There’s a word for men like that, and it sure as heck isn’t “conservative.”
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.